By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
There have been times where Tuukka Rask has had to rescue the Boston Bruins from disaster in their playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In Game 4 on Thursday, he did it for nearly 60 full minutes. He even rescued himself at one point.
Just 22 seconds into the second period, Rask woefully mishandled the puck in the trapezoid, leaving himself to save his own massive mistake. Good thing he didn’t over-pursue the drifting lost cause, instead instinctively lunging across Marleau’s shooting angle and getting in front of the puck before the Leafs winger could score the easiest playoff goal of his life.
But that didn’t happen. Rask just decided to prevent it with one of the biggest playoff saves of his life. Lost in the haze of the Bruins’ kind-of-stunning Game 4 win is how close the polarizing, often maligned Bruins goalie came to authoring his own self-inflicted postseason tragedy. But it was a different night for Rask. It was already apparent.
Rask made 31 saves in all, surviving and at times silencing a three-period siege by the Maple Leafs in the Bruins’ 3-1 win in Game 4. Such a night for Rask only felt more improbable when the Bruins suddenly announced the absence of Patrice Bergeron due to what’s being termed an upper-body injury. The Leafs often continued to have success with quick, deep passes through the neutral zone and sustained their offensive pressure for much of regulation. With the Bergeron-less Bruins looking at best a bit disorganized for the majority of the game, it was frequently up to Rask to stop the Leafs from finishing the play. And he stepped up with a performance that easily ranks among his very best in the playoffs.
One of Rask’s most impressive stops came early in the first period, when Mitch Marner very nearly created a goal in the same exact fashion as he did in Game 1. David Krejci makes a heinously ill-advised pass attempt, Marner cuts it off and instantly takes it the other way. This time, Marner breezed by Zdeno Chara after chipping the puck off the boards to start a 2-on-1.
The big difference is that when Marner set up Marleau with the large scoring chance, Rask made a larger save.
The Leafs broke through not long after that, but from there the lights went out for them. And they were not without opportunities; they ended up with a strong 38-20 advantage in 5-on-5 scoring chances (65.5 percent) on the night, including 10-7 in “high-danger” chances (58.8 percent). They out-shot the Bruins in all three periods.
But this game slowly unfurled itself over the course of its 60 minutes as essentially the opposite of Game 3. This time it was the Bruins finishing on their relatively limited chances, with their goalie doing the rest. This time, the road team made just enough adjustments and improvements to steal a W.
Rask wasn’t necessarily the biggest improvement for the Bruins. He’s been solid for the balance of the series. But he was certainly the most pivotal.
It arguably didn’t get more momentous than the save Rask made with just over 11 minutes left in the second period. Here comes Marner, the Leafs’ most consistently dangerous player in the entire series, all by himself with a chance to put the Leafs on top and tilt the game significantly in their direction. And Rask just angles his blocker out to parry the puck away.
Thursday was the kind of game that Rask’s most ardent critics have longed to see from him. They may still desire this kind of performance for an entire series, an entire Stanley Cup run. And Rask should be expected to play well every night. But this game was next-level, especially considering the circumstances. It’s clear that this kind of performance is in him somewhere, and he can bust it out when needed.
Well, it was needed on Thursday. And Rask provided. In a sneaky-very important Game 4. For all intents and purposes, it was paramount for the Bruins to take two out of three games that the Leafs had to play without Nazem Kadri. They also wanted to avoid letting the Leafs tie the series and seize the momentum for Game 5.
So while the questions will (and should) remain about how Rask will perform for the rest of this playoff run, there’s no question about what he did in Game 4. If the Bruins end up moving on, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to look back and say Rask delivered the key performance of the series.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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